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Carol Brown, RoleWorks & Diversitas CEO tells her founders story

July 09, 2018
 
In just over 3 weeks time on the 24th & 25th July we will be partnering with Diversitas and attending the 2018 New Zealand HR Leadership Summit. As it’s a first to have the two companies attend the same event we decided to sit down with the RoleWorks CEO and Co-Founder Carol Brown and hear the real story behind why she decided to found these two diverse, unique companies, and what her driving motivations are as an Entrepreneur in the Technology and Diversity space.


I want to share a story with you, a vulnerable story, not one I have often shared.

I grew up in South Africa, during the Apartheid. When I was six years old, my dad, sister and I went to a fish and chips store where we were picking up our dinner for the evening.

When we arrived at the shop, I noticed two entrances, one had a long queue of people, which extended down the footpath, past the shop next door and the other was clear, not one person in the queue.

My dad walked in the entrance where no one was queued, past every person waiting for their dinner. We moved to the front of the counter where a shop assistant finished serving a customer and moved directly towards us. I couldn’t read at the time, but I noticed a sign above the door when we walked in, although I didn't know what it said. As we were being served, I asked my dad why these people were queuing and why we were served straight away. It seemed very strange to me that even though we had just come in, we were served immediately, while others had to wait patiently in line.

His answer was “because that’s just the way it is”. It was not a satisfactory answer for me, and I continued to probe ‘but why’ – and my father’s response was – ‘just because.’

This memory has stayed with me. I felt a sense of injustice, but I couldn't explain why. It made me realize that if we don’t question the status quo and we go along with the way it is, we are complicit in creating huge inequity in our world.

Diversitas in a way is a response to my outrage at the fact that people are discriminated against for arbitrary reason, which holds no merit.

I have seen what inequity and discrimination do to a society and a country first hand. From that moment in the fish and chips shop, I made it my mission in life to contribute in some small way to creating a society where the difference is not just tolerated, but actually valued and leveraged.

What motivated you to move into the Diversity & Inclusion Space?

I have a real interest in business and have been in the HR and talent space for a long time. I really believe that we have a tremendous opportunity to tap into the diversity of skills available to us and create a win/win proposition for organisations and employees. There are many organisations out there who promote different aspects of diversity e.g. gender, ethnicity, LGBTQI etc. At Diversitas, we bang the drum for Making Difference Count in organisations. We are about helping organisations to put in practices that fully leverage all the dimensions of diversity available to them and create an environment of psychological safety where people can be heard and contribute to the overall success. Imagine what that would do for New Zealand’s economy?


Do you have a personal experience where you experienced bias or where you didn't feel heard by your manager?

We all have examples of where we think we’ve been marginalised or perhaps not heard. I think the most interesting experience I had was being told that I wouldn’t be considered for a role because I was from South Africa, and South Africans are arrogant! I think one of the most important things we can learn, is to understand ourselves – our own unique differences, cultural paradigms, values and belief systems. If we can understand and accept ourselves as unique and different, we are then able to make space for others’ differences, without having to make ourselves or them wrong.


Why is it important to you that organisations move toward Diversity & Inclusion?

There are many moral and ethical reasons why we as human beings should not judge or harm others. This at its core is what diversity and inclusion are all about. However, from an organisational perspective, we have a tremendous opportunity to really leverage the skills, perspectives, networks, strengths, and abilities of our workforce. I liken it to the analogy of the fact that we only use a fraction of our brainpower every day. I believe we only use a fraction of our workforce capability every day. We are hamstrung by our own fixed paradigms of what ‘good’ looks like, how we recruit and reward our employees and generally how we structure work. If we are able to break out of these narrow paradigms, what else is possible for the workplace, our communities, and society as a whole? The mind boggles.


Can you pinpoint the moment you had the idea for RoleWorks? When did the penny drop?

Yes, I was thinking about the fact that a lot of business leaders are really well-intentioned when it comes to leveraging the diversity of their workforce – but they really don’t know how. This got me thinking about creating something which would allow business leaders to learn more about the diverse skills, perspectives, strengths, and needs of their workforce and who better to get that information from than their own employees. This was how the concept of creating a feedback platform for employees to share the details of their role with their manager was born. It really is a practical tool for inclusion which helps managers and employees connect with each other easily and digitally and ultimately allows them to leverage the diversity of skills within the business to the best advantage of both managers and employees.


Was it through your experience in Diversitas that helped form the idea for RoleWorks?

Absolutely. It’s one thing understanding conceptually that diversity is good for business, and entirely another figuring out how to leverage that diversity. RoleWorks seemed like a logical follow on from what business leaders have already committed to, but have yet to put in practice. It is a tool for inclusive leadership and practice.


Tell me a story about what it was like to take the leap into starting Diversitas and RoleWorks?

I’ve always been a risk taker and questioned the status quo. For me starting both Diversitas and RoleWorks was much less to do with wanting to start a business, and so much more about solving a problem that I really think is worth solving. As such, I was curious to see whether others felt that diversity and inclusion are as important as I do and whether they get excited about the prospect of creating a worthwhile change. This is what spurs me on. We have created many solutions for our clients, always driven by the need to really understand the problem they are trying to solve and then putting our heads together to come up with a solution we believe will work. There are no silver bullets here. Only the desire to see change, create better organisations and really leverage everything that we as a team have to offer. It makes every day different and exciting and we only have one measure of success. ‘Did we make difference count today in some small way?’ If the answer is yes, we have achieved our goal.


Carol Brown,

CEO and Co-Founder, RoleWorks - Roleworks.com
CEO Diversitas - Diversitas.co